Latin America weighs odds of claiming the next pope

February 11, 2013

If the Vatican chose the next pope based on demographics, there would be a clear regional frontrunner. Forty-two percent of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America, and the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on Monday could be an opportunity for the Holy See to elect its first non-European pope.

Media organizations in several Latin American countries are focusing their attention on possible home-grown candidates. Yet, as this article by my colleagues at Reuters notes, the most likely candidates for the papacy from Latin America are from Brazil and Argentina:

“If the next conclave really is Latin America’s turn, the leading candidates there seem to be Odilo Scherer, archbishop of the huge diocese of São Paolo, or the Italian-Argentine Leonardo Sandri, now heading the Vatican department for Eastern Churches.”

Here’s what the local media in Brazil and Argentina are saying about Scherer and Sandri.

Sergio Rubin, religion editor for the Argentinian newspaper Clarín, points out that Catholicism in Europe is “practically retreating” while it flourishes in Latin America and Africa (translation mine). Rubin suggests Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio and Sandri as possible candidates from Argentina, but notes that 76-year-old Bergoglio has physical limitations that could interfere with his work.  Sandri was “the voice of Pope John Paul II when he passed away,” Rubin writes. Rubin also thinks he’s physically up to snuff: “He’s in good health and an ideal age: 70 years old.” (Translations mine).

However, Sandri’s current position may not impress the Vatican.

“[Sandri] is a ‘transatlantic’ figure born in Buenos Aires to Italian parents… But he has no pastoral experience and his job overseeing eastern churches is not a power position in Rome,” the Reuters report notes.

However, Sandri once held a high-ranking post at the Vatican. “Sandri is known for having had the strategic post of Substitute for General Affairs in the Secretariat of State, the second most important role after Pope John Paul II,” Elisabetta Piqué writes for La Nacion (my translation). “Therefore he was the right-hand man to the influential ex-Cardinal Secretary and current dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.”

However, with approximately 125 million Catholics, it is Argentina’s neighbor to the north Brazil that boasts the biggest Catholic population in the world. In Brazil, the 63-year-old Scherer appears to be the best bet.

According to the Wall Street Journal, as news of the Pope’s resignation swept through Carnival celebrations, the big question on revelers’ minds was whether the next Pope would be Brazilian.

While Brazil’s leading news agency Agência Estado pegs the Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola as the most likely new Pope, the agency says although Scherer “is not considered a favorite, his election would not be a surprise” (my translation).

BBC Brazil notes that Odilo is the descendant of German immigrants and considered a moderate. Agência Estado notes Scherer has more sway in Rome, where he studied and worked for seven years.

The WSJ reports that of Brazil’s nine cardinals, only five are under 80 years old, and therefore eligible to participate in the conclave. However, the daily newspaper Jornal do Brasil suggests Cardinal Dom Orani Tempesta could be chosen as a sixth cardinal in time to help elect Pope Benedict’s successor.

The cardinals could choose a new pope as soon as March 24.

PHOTO: Separate file photos of Roman Catholic clergy from Latin America cited as being possible candidates to be the next Pope, (L-R) Brazilian cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, Sao Paulo Archbishop Odilo Scherer, and Argentine cardinal Leonardo Sandri, taken in Rome between 2007 and 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

No comments so far

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see